10 In-Demand Facts About Furby

iStock
iStock

Have you finished your holiday shopping yet? Nineteen years ago, consumers were lining up for Furby—the furry, talkative doll that brought in big bucks for Hasbro as the must-have toy of the 1998 Christmas season. Reception to the toy in some corners was … more mixed, to say the least. Find out more with these 10 facts.

1. IT WAS BANNED AT A US SPY BASE.

One group that didn’t go gaga over Furby was the NSA, which banned the popular toy at their Maryland base. Per a 1999 CNN story, the concern was that Furbies would record and possibly repeat confidential material. (In Furbish, perhaps.)

2. YOU CAN SAY OVER 100 WORDS IN FURBY-SPEAK.

Furbish, of course, is the Furby’s native language; it starts out speaking only Furbish and then begins integrating English into its vocabulary as its owner speaks to it more. A 2005 English-to-Furbish dictionary included 121 words, including “diamond” (“ay-koo”), “monster” (“moh-moh”), and “whassup?” (“doo-oo-tye?”). Hey, it was the ‘90s.

3. DESIGNERS WERE CONCERNED IT WOULD BE TOO “GIRLY.”

Though the Furby was primarily targeted at young girls, designers at Tiger Electronics, which invented the toy, wanted it to appeal to boys as well. The solution? Give Furbies the ability to burp and fart.

4. THERE WAS A CONCERTED EFFORT TO HACK IT.

In 1999, engineer Peter van der Linden issued the “Hack Furby” challenge, which offered $250 to the first person who could make a Furby reprogrammable. The engineers at Tiger Electronics had intentionally made this difficult by encasing the relevant components in an epoxy shell. This was in part to avoid the fate of Playskool’s Talking Barney toy, which was relatively easy to hack so that it would say curse words.

5. CONCERNS OVER FURBY’S SECURITY AREN’T JUST A THING OF THE ‘90S.

A Furby toy
iStock

Late last year, Hasbro released the Furby Connect, which uses an Internet-connected mobile app to interact with the world around it. UK consumer group Which?, working with security consulting firm Context, warned that a lack of robust security measures made it possible to hack into the toy and use it as a surveillance device.

6. THEY STILL SELL FOR A LOT OF MONEY ONLINE.

Do you happen to be sitting on a Furby with a misprinted label? Get yourself to eBay, where special edition Furbies with misprinted labels have been known to sell for as much as $500.

7. THERE ARE LOTS OF SPECIAL TYPES OF FURBIES.

Hasbro wasn’t content to stop at regular old Furbies. Oh, no. Among special Furbies put out between 1998 and 2002 were Wizard Furby, Santa Furby, Jester Furby, President Furby, Kid Cuisine Furby, and Hi-C Furby. In 2015, Hasbro released an $80 Star Wars tie-in called “Furbacca.” 

8. HASBRO WAS SUED OVER FURBY’S RESEMBLANCE TO A MOGWAI.

Designers at Tiger Electronics intentionally shrunk the Furby’s ears following its 1998 Toy Fair debut, hoping to downplay its resemblance to the Mogwai from Warner Bros.’ Gremlins movies. But they didn’t go far enough to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit from Warner Bros., which sued Hasbro for trademark infringement in late 1998. Hasbro settled, paying Warner Bros. a reported seven figures and agreeing to redesign the doll.

9. AT ONE POINT, THERE WAS A FURBY MOVIE IN DEVELOPMENT.

And that point wasn’t 1998, but 2016, when Bob Weinstein announced at the American Film Market that The Weinstein Company was working on a live-action/CGI hybrid about the furry little creatures. “We think that this can resonate as a four-quadrant film. It can’t just be a 90-minute commercial,” said Hasbro executive Stephen Davis.

10. THERE’S ALREADY A MADE-FOR-TV FURBY MOVIE.

If you just can’t wait for The Weinstein Company’s Furby movie, you can whet your appetite with Furby Island, a 45-minute TV special about a girl and her family who venture to Furby Island and must save its inhabitants from the villainous “Doctor Conquest.” (The graphics are slightly terrifying.)

5 Clues Daenerys Targaryen Will Die in the Final Season of Game of Thrones

HBO
HBO

by Mason Segall

The final season of HBO's epic Game of Thrones is hovering on the horizon like a lazy sun and, at the end of the day, fans have only one real question about how it will end: Who will sit the Iron Throne? One of the major contenders is Daenerys of the thousand-and-one names, who not only has one of the most legitimate claims to the throne, but probably deserves it the most.

However, Game of Thrones has a habit of killing off main characters, particularly honorable ones, often in brutal and graphic ways. And unfortunately, there's already been some foreshadowing that writers will paint a target on Daenerys's back.

5. THE PROPHECIES

Carice van Houten in 'Game of Thrones'
Helen Sloan, HBO

What's a good fantasy story without a few prophecies hanging over people's heads? While the books the show is based on have a few more than usual, the main prophecy of Game of Thrones is Melisandre's rants about "the prince that was promised," basically her faith's version of a messiah.

Melisandre currently believes both Daenerys and Jon Snow somehow fulfill the prophecy, but her previous pick for the position died a grisly death, so maybe her endorsement isn't a good sign.

4. TYRION'S DEMANDS FOR A SUCCESSOR

Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke in a scene from 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

A particular scene in season seven saw Tyrion advising Daenerys to name a successor before she travels north to help Jon. She challenges him, "You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I'm dead. Is that it?" But that's exactly it. Tyrion is more than aware how mortal people are and wants to take precautions. He's seen enough monarchs die that he probably knows what warning signs to look for.

3. A FAMILY LEGACY

David Rintoul as the Mad King in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King Aerys II, a paranoid pyromaniac of a monarch. More than once, Daenerys has been compared to her father, particularly in her more ruthless moments. Aerys was killed because of his insanity and arrogance. If Daenerys starts displaying more of his mental illness, she might follow in his footsteps to the grave.

2. HER DRAGONS AREN'T INVINCIBLE

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

The fall and subsequent resurrection of the dragon Viserion was one of the biggest surprises of season seven. Not only did it destroy one of Daenerys's trump cards, but it proved that her other two dragons were vulnerable as well. Since the three-headed dragon is the sigil of her house, this might be an omen that Daenerys is next on the chopping block.

1. THAT VISION

Emilia Clarke in 'Game of Thrones'
HBO

All the way back in season two, Daenerys received a vision in the House of the Undying of the great hall in King's Landing ransacked and covered in snow. Before she could even touch the iron throne, she was called away by her dragons and was confronted by her deceased husband and son. This is a clear indication that she might never sit the throne, something that would only happen if she were dead.

Highway Fidelity: When Cars Came With Record Players

Fox Photos/Getty Images
Fox Photos/Getty Images

In the winter of 1956, Chrysler unveiled a series of improvements to their lineup of automobiles. There was LifeGuard, a latch that prevented doors from flinging open in the event of an accident. New windshield wipers promised to clean 10 percent more of the glass surface than the previous year’s model. And for those consumers willing to spend an extra $200—the equivalent of about $1700 today—there was the Highway Hi-Fi, a factory-installed record player mounted under the car's dashboard.

Using an “elastic three-point suspension,” the unit played “non-breakable” 7-inch records. In advertising copy, Chrysler touted that the discs would never skip, not even during sharp turns or while crossing railroad tracks. “It’s almost impossible to jar the arm off the record,” the company promised, anticipating the dubious looks of dealers and buyers alike.

As it turned out, attempting to spin a record while in a moving vehicle was every bit as problematic as it might sound. But before 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, and satellite radio, the Highway Hi-Fi represented the first opportunity for drivers to have some control over what they were listening to. They had autonomy—freedom to deviate from radio programmers, invasive ads, and boring talk shows.

Naturally, radio stations hated the idea.

A Chrysler car record player mounted under the dashboard
Courtesy FCA US

This bizarre automotive alteration was the result of an engineering genius who wanted to get his kid to shut up. Peter Goldmark was head of CBS Labs, a position which afforded him the resources to pursue other innovations. (He’s widely credited with ushering in the modern system of broadcasting color television.) He was the inventor of long-play (LP) records, which played vinyl at 33 and one-third revolutions per minute (RPM) instead of 78. Introduced in 1948, LPs revolutionized the music industry, packing more information onto the 12-inch discs by etching microgrooves into the vinyl and allowing producers to place up to 60 minutes of music on a side.

In the 1950s, Goldmark’s son observed that drivers had no influence over what was being broadcast via the transistor radios that had become standard in vehicles. While you could switch stations, you were still at the mercy of programming directors and their tastes in music.

As inventors tend to do, Goldmark identified the problem and then sought out a way to remedy it. His own creation, the LP, was far too big to have any practical application in a vehicle: The turntable would hang over a passenger’s knees. The 45 RPM record was much smaller but could only hold about five minutes of music on each side. Forcing someone to try and change records with such frequency while driving would likely result in accidents.

Goldmark devised a new option. Using a 7-inch record, he created a surface with ultra-microgrooves that played at 16 and two-thirds RPM. Each side could hold 45 minutes of music, a far more practical solution for people who couldn’t tend to the turntable easily. It also fit snugly under the dash, projecting out at the push of a button so the user could load a record and set the needle before pushing it back underneath and out of the way.

Goldmark made other adjustments. The vinyl records were thicker than standard LPs so they would be more heat-resistant during the summer months. He also developed a spring enclosure to absorb shocks and a counterweighted needle arm to make sure it wouldn’t leap off the record while traveling over bumps.

Goldmark tested it in a CBS executive’s Thunderbird. It worked flawlessly. He loved it.

CBS CEO William Paley hated it.

Paley equated the innovation to a form of self-sabotage. CBS had radio affiliates all around the country beaming their signals into millions of cars; those stations sold advertising spots to generate revenue. If drivers began listening to their own records instead of the radio, they were effectively diluting their own audiences. Paley thought sponsors would have a tantrum. He dismissed the idea entirely.

Perhaps feeling slightly petulant, Goldmark instead went directly to his potential customer: a car manufacturer. Visiting with Chrysler executive Lynn Townsend, Goldmark sold the company on the dashboard record player as a factory option. He rode along during a test drive, with Chrysler employees driving over bumps, railroad tracks, and other obstacles to see if the record skipped. It didn’t. The company ordered 18,000 Highway Hi-Fi units, a sizable investment that Paley couldn’t ignore.

CBS Labs mass-produced the devices, and Chrysler began instructing their dealers to pitch the add-on to prospective buyers. Each unit would come with six records, with the option to buy more through CBS-Columbia, a record label that manufactured the unique discs. Owing to Paley’s influence—he detested rock music—the choices were extremely placid. Car owners got the soundtrack to the Pajama Game Broadway musical, some Tchaikovsky, a jazz record, a dramatic reading of a George Bernard Shaw play, and songs from Disney’s Davy Crockett television series. (The latter was advertised to “help keep [kids] quiet.”) The catalog offered spoken-word reenactments of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Owing to their smaller grooves, the records couldn’t be played on conventional turntables. Given the selection, that was probably a blessing.

A print ad for a Chrysler car record player
Courtesy FCA US

The limited selection was one problem. The functionality of the Highway Hi-Fi was another. Goldmark had tested the device in a Thunderbird and in high-end Chrysler vehicles, but the company offered the machine in their economical Dodge and Plymouth models, which both had modest shock absorption. The records could and did skip, and the models were the source of several claims against the car’s warranty coverage. Local mechanics weren’t audiophiles and didn’t have the knowledge to make simple repairs. As word spread, Chrysler went from selling 3685 Hi-Fi units in 1956 to just 675 in 1957.

The option was discontinued shortly thereafter, but that wasn’t quite the end for car-mounted records. In 1960, RCA thought they had resolved some of the outstanding issues with their Victrola, which played 45s and overcame the short running time problem by constructing a 14-disc changer. When one record was finished, the unit would automatically drop another in its place. Similar to a jukebox, the needle was upside down and the record lowered on top of it to reduce skipping. Records slid into a slot in a manner similar to the CD players that were decades away.

The Victrola was picked up by Chrysler. It performed better than the Highway Hi-Fi, was cheaper ($51.75), and didn’t force users to limit themselves to the paltry selection of CBS’s custom discs. But it didn’t last long either; it was discontinued in 1961. (Another option, the UK’s Auto-Mignon, played 45s with manual switching: Each of the four Beatles was said to own one.) Before anyone could think to improve upon it further, 8-tracks arrived and soon became the portable car sound source of choice. CBS never followed through on plans to equip taxis, airplanes, buses, and other forms of transportation with their devices. In the evolution of on-demand music and auto transportation products, the Highway Hi-Fi was one step best skipped.

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